Rep. Brian Stewart Weekly Column: Basketball and Farming

It was President Theodore Roosevelt who said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Congratulations to the Stockton Girls Basketball team and Coach Timpe for finishing second in the IHSA Class 1A State Championship game this last week. Your hard work and determination are an inspiration to many throughout Northwest Illinois. The team finished their season 32-3.

Last week was also National Future Farmers of America Week. Chapters throughout Northern Illinois were active celebrating the mission of the FFA and the impact it has on its members. The FFA is “committed to the individual student, providing a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agriculture education.

It is inspiring to see so many of our youth strive and succeed. They are our future, and that is why it is so important to reverse two trends, first of focusing our tax dollars and economic incentives on Chicago, and second, of rural population being siphoned to Cook and the collar counties.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The first farmer was the first man. All historic nobility rests on the possession and use of land.” I agree. Agriculture is an important key to success for Northwest Illinois.

It was good to see the Governor’s budget include level funding for agricultural programs in the Illinois Department of Agriculture and pass through spending for local government agricultural programs. The capital plan includes new funding for the Illinois State Fair to reconstruct the Coliseum. Originally constructed in 1901, the Coliseum is a three story, closed ampitheater show ring for horses and has been closed since 2016 because of structural issues.

At the local level, municipalities, townships, and county governments can help spur agricultural growth. The Illinois Farm Bureau recommends emphasizing sales taxes and other forms of revenue instead of property taxes. I agree that our property taxes are too high, and that we should explore alternatives while providing property tax relief for families.

In 1900 38 % of jobs in the United States were in agriculture. By 1981 that number had dropped to less than 4% of workers and is now less than 2%. Prioritizing growth for rural Illinois should include continued funding for agricultural education.

The agricultural jobs of today are different and more varied than in 1981. We should grow community college vocational agricultural programs. We should also provide vocational agriculture education for K-12 students in rural school districts and show our FFA students we are serious about expanding agricultural job opportunities in rural Illinois.

It was the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas who said, “Infrastructure is much more important than architecture.” Investment in infrastructure is essential for both rural Illinois and our agricultural economy to succeed. Currently, the average grade for Illinois infrastructure is C-. We need a capital plan that will turn our C- into an A.

I am encouraged by the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council and its pilot program to provide online Advanced Placement classes to 10 rural schools in Illinois. I was encouraged when they chose Orangeville High School as one of the sites for the pilot. Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti has worked hard on this program, and we certainly hope to see it expand across the rest of rural Illinois in a few short years.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.” Turning around rural Illinois has to include an emphasis on agriculture. The two go hand in hand.

Naysayers will argue that there is no money, or the money will somehow involve hurting another group. There are always reasons to say no. We can achieve our goals by expanding the Illinois economy, especially our rural economy because that expands our tax base without increasing our tax burden.

As always you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.

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